Early on in my journey with Yoga, I was often impressed about its ‘benefits’; when you look in any Yoga textbook there is often a list of physical ailments which a specific pose will apparently help with.
These benefits are echoed throughout the internet and media the message being ‘do this pose to relieve this’. I believe this information should be taken with a very big pinch of salt.
Whilst there are numerous, undeniable, physical benefits to yoga, we have to be very careful when saying a specific pose can fix a specific ailment. There is no reliable evidence than I can find, accept anecdotally, to back these claims up. Don’t get me wrong, Yoga is massively beneficial physically and mentally. Generally though, the research is done on Yoga as a wholistic intervention including all its aspects (postures, breathing, meditation), and as a regular practice. The evidence is growing to support Yoga in this way to help with a whole range of issues.
However, I am struggling to find ANYTHING which would provide evidence of the benefits of a specific pose for a specific issue, in the way in which it is presented as fact throughout Yoga textbooks. (Maybe someone can point in the direction of some?)
So this begs the question where does this information come from? Is it just regurgitated from ‘Guru to Disciple’ down through texts and teachings? If so then it’s just anecdotal and should NOT be touted as FACT and mindlessly repeated with no thought for whether it’s true.
Let’s look at a specific asana as an example, Bow Pose or Dharunasana; one of my least favourite postures. I have looked for research papers about this pose, and I cannot find anything.
Here is a list of some of the issues it is said to help with, this is taken directly from an article in a prominent Yoga magazine, this article has no references cited at all.
They list the therapeutic applications as
- Respiratory ailments
- Mild backache
- Menstrual discomfort
And they list the benefits as
- Stretches the entire front of the body, ankles, thighs and groins, abdomen and chest, and throat, and deep hip flexors (psoas)
- Strengthens the back muscles
- Improves posture
- Stimulates the organs of the abdomen and neck
There is SO MUCH I could comment on in regard to just this one article, about this one pose, and we haven’t even looked at some of the more commonly used reference books.
Here’s just a few points that spring to mind;
- I can certainly see that yes it stretches the entire front of the body including all the structures they mentioned; however I would add AT WHAT PRICE ARE YOU ACHIEVING THIS STRETCH? Is it safe to do this?
- Therapeutically I’m not sure it helps mild back ache, but it could definitely cause it. As an Osteopath, advising my patients to force their spine into extension and compressing the facet joints would not be my go-to choice of movement, for anyone with or without back issues.
- I would question whether putting the whole weight of the body on top of the reproductive organs is sensible if you have menstrual disorders. This is also very vague and therefore not the most helpful advice so, I’m not convinced about this either.
I could go on … it is information like this which has prompted me to try to explore the true benefits of some of these Yoga postures and ask why are we doing them? What is our intention for practicing them and teaching them? Personally, I don’t think “because it is a traditional Yoga asana” a good enough answer.
The most important question raised is whether this type of information is actually harmful, and I would say yes it can be. Not only for individuals attempting the pose, but also for the Yoga industry itself.
Extreme poses like Bow are used for people to market their hypermobility as an advert for what is doing Yoga well. Every time I see these contortionist images, captioned as ‘Yoga’, my heart sinks a little. YOGA IS SO MUCH MORE THEN THE SHAPES WE CAN MAKE, and this type of promotion puts people off even trying it. This is such shame as it could help so many more people in such a profound way.
Please don’t believe everything you read, please don’t copy every advanced pose you see on instagram and most of all please don’t think that Yoga is all about contorting yourself into damaging shapes. It’s so much more than that.
If you would like to explore Yoga in safe and bespoke way then please get in touch, I offer group and 121 classes. I also provide anatomy and clinical based CPD courses for Yoga Teachers.